Saturday, December 30, 2006

News from the Past III

Act of God
TIME Magazine
Published Monday, Mar. 24, 1941

A sudden, mighty 70-mile-an-hour March wind roared across the prairies of the Northwest one night last week. It swept cars from the highway, sent drivers, blinded by snow and dust, blundering into ditches. In Fargo, N. Dak. the temperature dropped 14° in 15 minutes.

Herman Treichel abandoned his car, led his wife and two children to their home. Near exhaustion from bucking the breathtaking wind, he fought his way back to the car and lifted out his six-year-old son. When Treichel got him home, the child was frozen to death.

A Northern Pacific locomotive groped into Pembina, N. Dak. The crew discovered they had struck Mike Howry's daughter, had been dragging her body along on the pilot. Searchers found the frozen body of the girl's sister near Mike's home.

The storm's toll: at least 68 dead.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gamble Letter #38

We're getting towards the end of the letters, only a few left. For whatever reason, a few of the last letters that were transcribed (I have not seen the originals...) have portions missing. I'm not sure if the lines were literally missing, or were in such poor condition they were unreadable. Only a comparison with the originals would clarify this.

The letter in this post is one such letter...
St. Vincent, Minn.
April 30, 1896

Dear Maggie,

We received your welcome letter alwright. I am very sorry I neglected answering your last letter. I know you would think it mean of me, but I do be very busy, and sometimes I forget all about it.

I expect you will think the farmers out here are busily engaged seeding, but seeding is impossible, it has rained for three or four days in a steady down pour. There has only been two bright days since the snow has gone. The farmers think they cannot sow any wheat this year. This has been the wettest spring since we came here. I do not be talking to Rieta Lapp very often, she goes to school, and they do not visit but, I will ask her next time I see her. Her father is very strict with her, he will not let her out her hair in front, or go many places but he thinks the world of her. I tell you that about her hair, so you will have an idea how he is bringing her up. I think Liza is the best woman I ever knew.

Lizzie was down on Sunday if she came every day we would consider it a great event. The babies are well. I could never find words to describe Margie and the baby, the baby especially. Lizzie calls baby "Little Blossom". I do be trying to get Lizzie to have their pictures taken, but it is very hard for her to get out with the two of them.

[16 lines missing]

I have finished a petticoat for myself, it took 7 1/2 spools to make. The lace on it is a diamond pattern very pretty crotcheted. I can not knit very well. I am

[16 lines missing]

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Historical Novel about...Pembina

Below is an excerpt of an unpublished* novel by Chuck Walker of Pembina. The novel is set in the 1870's, in and around Pembina, featuring real people who lived here at that time; Take a peek here to see two of the characters - Charles (called Charley) Brown and John Kabernagle - listed in the 1880 census.

Chuck told me...
"Charley came with the first troops to the Fort when it was organized in l870. He was a Sergeant at the time. During the Civil War he was captured and escaped. He became sheriff in l875.

"He brought out Eugene Harris (Dr Harris’s brother), Dr Harris’ Mother and sisters, as well as his own Mother, in 1882. Charley was a cousin of my Grandfather.

"What happened in the book actually happened. The names are accurate except for the girl [Marguerite] and her family. The times are accurate, so are the soldiers names and officer names at the Fort. As sheriff from 1875 until his death with cancer in l884 he farmed a quarter at the border about 3 miles west of the present custom house. In addition to being sheriff of Pembina County those years, also ran a saloon just south of what we knew as the old Heneman store, with John Kabernagel. I didn’t mention John’s wife Hannah in the story, whom I knew very well as a child. The shootings are fact and true, the jail escape is well known. The trips west to recover the teamsters' goods is true and accurate."
Sheriff Charley Brown
By Charles Walker

Chapter l

Dakota Territory, l878

Sheriff Charley Brown was beginning to feel the pressure. Things were getting complicated; work was piling up faster than it could be handled. A bachelor, he lived alone above his sample store located near the north end of the business block; a business block with no vacant lots. Wood-framed stores and shops were crammed haphazardly together, wall-to-wall, creating an excellent chance of a future, massive conflagration.

Now, at 31 years of age, Charley was beginning to have frequent occasions of strange dreams, nightmares that he had not had since his teens. They were of his war years, years long past. Usually it was the same dream, but with subtle variations. He marveled that waking up from a dream only took seconds, but how long the dream seemed.

The Confederate captain was adamant; Charley was to be hung as a spy. The noose around his neck was snug and scratchy; then the officer suddenly swung his quirt at the horse Charlie was astride, the one he had attempted to steal. At the same moment the officer shouted, "That'll teach you Yankee bastards not to steal horses!" Charley felt the sudden burning pain and choking as the rope tightened with a jerk.

Awakening in a cold sweat, he discovered his bed sheets clammy, damp from perspiration. He also realized he had again been grinding his teeth as his tongue detected a lump inside his cheek. Twisting in bed, he reached over to the bedside table, fumbling blindly for the kerosene lamp. As his fingers contacted the base, he slid his fingers lightly up to the chimney. Removing the glass carefully, he set it aside to grope for a match. Striking one under the bed iron, he touched it to the wick. Replacing the chimney, he flung the bed covers aside and swung his feet to the floor. It had not cooled during the night and the floor seemed warm.

Bewildered, he questioned his sanity. Why am I dreaming about the war? It's been over for years. Something's getting to me! What is it? The nightmare brought back memories of the time he and two friends had been captured by Confederate cavalrymen. The enemy had overrun them during a counterattack by the rebels against Buford's Federals. Hiding until dark, they had attempted to steal enemy horses at St. James Church, only to be captured when the horses created a fuss.

The rebel captain of the cavalry unit wasted no time. All three were to dance at the end of a rope as spies. It was the timely arrival of General Jeb Stuart that spared their lives. The heavily bearded commander appeared out of the darkness, demanding the reason for the clamor. After an explanation, he addressed the captain scornfully. "They are just boys. Send them to the rear."

Charley, already a brevet second lieutenant, and knowing how close they had been to death, saluted the General. "Thank you, sir!" he said.

General Stuart studied Charley briefly with a wry smile before turning away.

Reaching for his watch on the bedside table, Charley saw it was nearly 5:00 a.m. Even from a distance he could hear a cock crowing with pride over his harem. Dressing slowly, he picked up the lamp and moved to the kitchen to make coffee.

A faint light was showing in the eastern sky, faintly illuminating his kitchen. While the coffeepot rocked on the kerosene stove, he stepped to the sink, poured water into a china bowl and washed his face. Rubbing briskly with a towel he bent further to look into a mirror that hung too low. Dampening his hair, he parted it, determined to get a shave later in the day.

Carrying a steaming cup of coffee downstairs, he unlocked the door of the saloon he shared with his business partner, John Kabernagle. Eyeing the spittoons as he began sweeping the floor, he shook his head in disgust. Men either couldn't or wouldn't spit straight, missing the receptacle, and making a mess on the floor. He made a mental note to tell their swamper to surround the pots with more sawdust.

Finally finished tidying up the floor, he put the broom away and began clearing and wiping the tables, moving the dirty mugs and glasses to the bar. As he stepped outside to lock the door a last brief perusal of the room satisfied him. On the boardwalk outside, he found the air already warm. The morning sun was an eye-catching ball of fire that caressed the eastern sky with yellows and orange, fading westward to corals and turquoise. Glancing in each direction along the street, he found it totally deserted. The lightness of the morning air still carried faint traces of the acrid odor of smoke, smoke from the burning peat bogs to the east, in Minnesota.

At the north corner he stepped from the raised plank sidewalk to cross the rutted dirt street toward the jail. He knew that John, his business partner, would open the doors of their tavern promptly at 10 a.m.

Suddenly a resounding boom from Fort Pembina's morning salute gun sounded throughout the town. It echoed among the buildings, the harbinger of another workday at the army post located just a mile to the south.

He hesitated momentarily to view the weather-bleached, two storied, squared-log jail. There was that bedraggled, swollen-bellied cat sitting complacently in front of the door. Turning toward the one-holer located behind the jail, he spent some moments, then returned to the front door to remove the brass padlock. As he opened the door, the feline arose to walk daintily inside, rubbing and purring against his boots the moment he sat at his desk. Exasperated, Charley shook his head, addressing the cat loudly. "You skinny, misbegotten critter, you've gotten yourself knocked up again!" A guilty feeling came when he realized he had forgotten to bring his table scraps of last evening. The cat looked up at Charley dolefully, blinking her eyes slowly. Charley knew the female to be independent and usually antisocial. Now, he thought, she's looking for sympathy. Many times the cat had been inadvertently locked in the jail for a day or two, but had come to no harm since he always kept a tin of water inside the door.

Reaching into his top drawer Charley withdrew a sheaf of wanted posters. Gazing out the small six paned window directly in front of his desk he mourned the dirty and cracked panes. Among the broken edges purple and violet tints sparkled and twisted in the sunlight. Backing his chair toward the doorway, he gained additional light to ease his reading. While scanning the sheets the cat jumped to his lap, purring and nuzzling his hands. Petting her absently he could feel her body throbbing beneath his fingers, giving him a feeling of tranquility. Lazily he attempted to memorize the poor facial drawings and described details of the felons.

His attention was momentarily diverted by the sound of footsteps as lawyer, Bob Ewing, climbed the outside staircase to his office above the jail. He heard the twang of the screen door spring, then the rattle of the key in the lock. The screen door closed with a slap, followed by a thump as the inner door closed.

Dust motes drifted down from the ceiling as a heavy chair scraped on the floor above. Charley mentally cursed the builder of the lockup, knowing that although the floor above was heavily double-planked, the carpenter had failed to put felt paper between the two layers of lumber. Dust gravitated down whenever the lawyer or his clients moved about.

Finished reviewing the wanted posters, he turned to a two-day-old copy of the St. Paul Globe, knowing well that the paper was owned by the railroad magnate, Jim Hill.

Charley was the only law for well over forty miles in each direction, excepting to the north. There, just two miles away lay the Canadian border where Constable Bob Bell was in charge, assisted by Fred Bradley, who was Justice of the Peace.

Recently Jud LaMoure, a local resident, had been made a Deputy United States Marshal. Unfortunately, he was seldom around, being involved in politics and his several business enterprises. Actually, Charley felt comfortable in his position as sheriff, since he had the full cooperation of Captain Collins, the commanding officer at Fort Pembina. He could usually find-qualified men if he needed deputies.

Although the sheriff stood a bit over six feet in height, he was becoming conscious of his weight. In the army he had held just below 190 pounds, but now he tended to gain easily. He often thought of his friend Constable Bob Bell of Emerson. Bob, a huge man, was developing an overhanging paunch; also incipient dewlaps were beginning to sag from his cheeks. Perhaps it was conceit, but Charley found himself eating less and walking more, aware of the consequences.

His prowess of manly defense while in the army had made him a legendary figure, fame gained during the war and as First Sergeant of Company I, 20th Infantry. Even so, since the beginning of his sheriffing days, he was known to be a generous man, not a harsh disciplinarian. There were times when he was confused by his own emotions. He had killed men ruthlessly in combat, but now he held a live, and let live attitude. He knew he had been brash as a boy, headstrong and willful.

At sixteen years of age he had run away from his West Virginia home to join the Confederate Army. His grandfather's influence had resulted in his ignominious return home in the custody of a Southern sheriff. Within days he had run away again, this time joining the Northern Army, having been thoroughly disenchanted by the rough treatment administered him by his southern captor.

His thoughts turned to his problem with Marguerite. They were to have supper together this evening at the Crawford House in St. Vincent. Just last week she had brought up the subject of marriage. Since her younger sister, Susan, had married his friend, Ian McLaren, she had been pressing for a permanent relationship.

Looking directly into his eyes, she had said, "We've been walking out together for nearly two years now. Let's get married at Thanksgiving time."

When he became evasive, she became angry.

The breed girl was beautiful and talented, but Charley's training while a youth had made the idea of a mixed marriage a hell on earth. Raised in the east, a son of strict and religious parents, made miscegenation unthinkable, almost a crime against nature. At times his conscience ate at him, knowing he was being unfair to her. Still, somehow, he was unable to face a breakup.

Although there were many attractive white females available, none had caught his interest. Marguerite had brought something new and vivacious into his life. Something he had never shared with any other woman. He knew it would be impossible to forget her entirely, and knew it would be up to him to terminate their relationship. His conscience ate at him, knowing the longer he put it off, the more difficult it would become. He had never before been so deeply troubled, his moral senses so debased. He felt guilt-ridden with remorse, feeling he had sullied his own reputation, and hers. His conscience eased somewhat, remembering that Margurite liked trinkets. He would stop at Feldman's Jewelry tomorrow and pick up a small gewgaw for her.

Another thought came to mind. Recently renegade Indians from Wood Mountain, in Manitoba, had shown up in the Hair Hills [aka Pembina Hills] to the west. They had crossed over into Dakota Territory from Canada, causing alarm among white settlers and trouble among the local Indians. After seizing a teamster's horses, wagon and government goods, they had run the man out of the hills.

Furthermore, Charley had word that the same redskins had been posting warnings on trees and cabins, ordering whites out of the area. He mused, "Thank the Lord the Indians posted those notices! Now the military will have to take action. They'll have to give me backing when I try to get that government property back."

As sheriff, he was sure the Indians were leery of the military, knowing well the aftermath of the Custer debacle just two years ago. Surely they would back down -- that is, if they could be found. But how could he recover the government goods? A grim thought came, "Heck, if I know anything about Indians, those goods have been spread to hell and gone by now! Still, there's a slim chance I might be able to recover the team and wagon."

Another vexing problem had presented itself just last evening, in the form of a Deputy United States Marshal. Charley had been eating his evening meal at the Pioneer Hotel when the proprietress, Mrs. Fisk, brought a stranger to his table. Resting her hand familiarly upon Charley's shoulder, the rotund lady smiled. "Charley, this gentleman says he has business with you. His name is William Anderson."

She turned to the stranger coyly, "You'll have supper with us I expect?"

"Yes. Thank you!" He locked eyes with the Charley, who had risen to shake his hand. "Do you mind if join you, sheriff?"

"Not a bit, take a seat."

Mrs. Fisk turned away with a smile of satisfaction, knowing the stranger would contribute to her coffers.

Charley looked quizzically as Anderson adjusted his chair forward to the oilcloth-covered table. He noted the man's heavy body, his oversized nose that emphasized the square jaw. Casually, Anderson placed a shiny Deputy U.S. Marshals' badge on the table.

"If that's a bona fide badge, maybe I'm the wrong man for you." Charley remarked.

"How so?"

"Jud LaMoure is the deputy marshal in this district. I don't intrude into his business unless he asks for help."

"Let me put my cards on the table." The marshal picked up his badge, returning it to an inside vest pocket, then he fished in an outside pocket to produce a curved stem pipe and tobacco pouch. Taking his time, he casually filled the pipe, tamping down the tobacco with his index finger. Before striking a match he raised his eyes to Charley. "I'm looking for a Texan. He's been involved in several bank holdups, and lastly, he was one of the gang involved in the train robbery at Mesquite, Texas."

Charley mused, "No strangers in town that I know of. Oh, there are still quite a few railroad workers I don't know personally, but I doubt your man is here."

"He's here! Believe me -- I know! He had a local lawyer named Ewing write a letter to his wife in Dallas. Our postal people intercepted it; the lawyer carelessly used his personal letterhead. Perhaps I should explain further. You must have heard of the Big Springs train robbery last November. The robbers got $60,000, all in $20 gold pieces. You're probably aware that we're still looking for two of those bandits and a good chunk of the missing money."

Charley's interest grew. He had reward posters on two of the Big Springs robbers and recently the Grand Forks newspaper, The Plaindealer, had warned of their presence in the immediate area. The wanted posters listed their names as Frank Carter and John Underwood.

"I've heard of them, but few strangers have come into town recently. Sure, we've got about 4500 residents between the towns of Pembina and St. Vincent, but the hotels usually keep me informed of suspicious characters. Weren't most of those involved in the Big Springs robbery either captured or killed?"

"Yup, but the Mesquite robbery involving Bill Collins happened about four years ago. We've been biding our time ever since, waiting for a break. We finally got it!" Anderson looked confidant, and then added, "He may have been living here for a month or more. He's young looking, tall and husky -- used to weight about 200 pounds. He's got a booming voice and the personality to charm a rattlesnake.

His voice suddenly turned bitter. "We were raised together as lads and attended the same school. In fact we were the best man at each other's wedding. Trouble was, his marriage didn't keep too well after he began associating with thieves. By luck, I turned to law." He puffed a few moments on his pipe, and then asked, "Where does this lawyer named Ewing hang his shingle?"

Charley smiled. "That's easy, he couldn't be closer. His office is just above the jail. He'll be there in the morning."

The marshal glanced around the room, and then turned back to Charley. "I'll be around until I can gather up Collins. Can you recommend a clean hotel? I've had enough of crummy rooms and bedbugs."

"We've got several good hotels and quite a few rooming houses. Where is your gear? Nothing wrong with this place; Mrs. Fisk has rooms in the back and upstairs. She's fussy, keeps them clean." Charley chuckled, "Watch out for her; I think she's looking for a husband."

"This lodging will be satisfactory."

The cold unemotional reply and the look on the man's face told Charley his attempt at levity had failed.

After cleaning his plate Anderson slid back his chair and stood. "Can I count on meeting with you tomorrow morning around 8 o'clock, say at your jail? By the way, where is it?"

"A block west and a block north, just west of the street. You'll see Ewing's sign by the outside staircase."

Charley removed a small oyster tin from a pocket and began scraping the remains from his plate. He noted the puzzled look on the marshal's face, and said sheepishly, "This is for my mouser at the jail. She's got a litter of kittens on the way."

Newspaper ad from August 7, 1879 issue of THE PEMBINA PIONEERAfter his discussion with the marshal, Charley's intuition took over. Putting the facts together he suspected the wanted man to be Bill Gale. If it's him, he thought, it's a darn shame. Although he had met Gale only casually, he took an immediate liking to the man, but also a suspicion. He judged the man was a mover who never stayed long in any one place. The man had a southern drawl and had worked at odd jobs around town for the past few weeks. Yet he had caused no trouble and minded his own business. Charley knew that Gale now tended bar at Jim White's, Halfway-House Hotel in Huron City**. It was just two miles north of Pembina, situated on the Canadian border. Gale was a six-footer, a husky man, as large and heavy as Charley. Charley knew he was no man to fool with; the bulge under Gale's left armpit indicated a firearm. That didn't bother him, knowing many of the men in town carried some sort of weapon, either gun or knife.

He knew the hotel where Gale now worked had an unsavory reputation, equipped as it was with girls who rendered services to men***. It was located astride the border between Canada and the United States and was well known, famous for its red stripe painted down the center of the barroom floor. The north half of the room was in Canada and the south half in Dakota Territory of the United States.

Salty perspiration trickled down his forehead and burned his eyes as he looked up at the flyspecked calendar. The loud chirp of a lone cricket came from the rear of the jail cell, answered by another, located somewhere under his desk. It was the second Saturday in September with the promise of the day becoming another scorcher. A drought condition had prevailed all fall and it had not cooled during the night. Nature was playing a dastardly trick, making winter seem far away.

Tugging the watch from his vest, he examined the gold-cased Howard casually. It was one of his few foibles, a fine, expensive watch. Already it was 9 o'clock and the marshal had failed to appear. "Why am I waiting for him? I'm not his keeper!"

Deciding not to dawdle longer, he swung his feet from the scarred desktop. The springs under the slant-back chair protested as he stood. The thought came: "I'll take things one at a time. Bob Ewing can wait; there's plenty of time to find the moniker of the man he represented."

Reaching for his keys and flat brim Stetson, Charley closed and locked the outside jail door. Some days ago he had forgotten to lock the door and returned to find pranksters had taken the leg irons, cuffs and other restraints and secured them across the arms of his swivel chair. Then they had hidden the keys so cleverly that it had taken a half hour to find them. He suspected his occasional deputies, either Bill Moorhead or Ned Cavalier to be guilty. More than likely it was Ned, since he was the practical joker and sport about town. He was usually involved in some wild scheme, usually a lottery that turned to his profit. The thought amused Charley, for he knew that eventually word of the guilty party would leak to him. The opportunity for revenge would come; he'd have the last laugh!

Cutting through the alley to Mason's Livery, he entered the rear of the barn to get his saddle. A hostler, busy scraping out horse stalls with a shovel, nodded briefly.

"Durned hot day, dry as a popcorn fart."

"It'll be plenty cool soon, winter is just around the corner."

"Want your horse saddled?"

"Naw, I'll do it. It appears you've plenty of crap to shovel."

His bay in the corral came obediently to his cajoling call. After a brief show of affection Charley carefully spread the saddle blanket and eased up the saddle. Circling his horse, he lifted and examined each hoof in turn. Finally slipping on the bridle, he mounted and headed for the bridge. A disturbing thought came, that marshal's not much at keeping appointments.

The hooves of his horse made brittle sounds on the dry planking as he crossed the makeshift bridge over the Pembina River. Stopping momentarily to pay the five cent toll, he noted the water beneath the bridge to be only a foot or so deep. He reasoned a dam was needed here to hold back a head of water. It was obvious that the river was so shallow that it would in all probability freeze solid to the bottom this coming winter. When that happened, water for the livestock in town would have to be hauled by wagon from the Red River, a cold miserable task.

He was pleasantly surprised to find a light breeze from the southeast as he turned toward the fort. The road held three well-worn ruts, formed by the ox carts that had traveled the path for years. The center rut was formed by myriads of oxen’s hooves. The ankle deep dust on the road muted the sounds of his trotting animal.

A warm feeling of satisfaction came whenever he returned to the fort. After all, he had spent twelve years in the army and most of his friends remained in the service. Also, he realized his timing was perfect. When he finished his business with Captain Collins, the officer would no doubt insist upon his staying for dinner.

He was determined to ask that Lieutenant Kirkpatrick be allowed to head the military escort needed for the foray to straighten out the Indians. He had worked with the Irisher before and they got along well. Since today was Friday, he determined they would leave for the Hair Hills early on Monday morning.

“Gadfrey!” he sighed, "It'll take nearly three days just to get out there, then we'll have to find those scalawags!

On his way to the fort Charley reviewed the loss of his horse and buggy in the Mason Livery fire just two months ago. As badly as he needed and wanted another trotting horse, good ones were few and far between. Also they were mighty expensive.

His thoughts turned to Mrs. Geroux. "She's had two buggy runaways this past month. Why does Lucien keep that wild team? More to the point, he's wealthy, and owns that big hotel. Why doesn't he buy an older buggy horse for his wife? I'll have to corner him on that!"

He smiled to himself thinking of his business partner. John had recently discovered his buggy missing. The horse, untended and untied, had taken off, crossed the bridge and was found at the brewery just south of town. Fortunately, both buggy and horse were unharmed. Kabernagle was teased unmercifully about it. Ned Cavalier had jested, "John, your horse is a creature of habit. He knows your every Sunday desire. He just forgot to take you along!"

There was no doubt in Charley's mind who had slashed his trotter, then burned Mason's livery barn. Water under the bridge, he reflected. He's dead now, the dirty pup! How many heinous crimes had Murphy gotten away with in his lifetime? How many murders? It was lucky Pete caught him when he attempted to rape Pete's youngest daughter, Susan. It was certain Murphy would have killed her after using her.

Painting of Fort Pembina in the 1870sCharley still felt guilty about arresting Pete for killing Murphy, then leaving him in the custody of Captain Bob. Gullible Bob, his jailer, had let railroaders tempt him with drugged whiskey, then removed Pete from the jail and killed him. Although Charley knew several of the guilty men involved, he had no firm evidence. Now they were safely across the border in Canada, out of reach. Shaking his head in frustration, he tried to relieve his conscience. "How could I have known those railroaders would seek revenge for Pete's killing Murphy because Pete was a breed? I'm positive Murphy was the one who raped and killed that young Indian girl at Roseau Crossing [Dominion City]; he probably was involved in the disappearance of those two missing soldiers too!" Reflecting, he was thankful Susan and Marguerite didn't blame him for the disappearance of their father. They had been shocked at his removal from the jail by unknown assailants, but were not privy to the fact that their father was positively dead. The only ones who knew were the railroaders who committed the crime, the smuggler who had found his body while crossing the border, and himself. Even he would have not known, except that the smuggler who stumbled on a protruding, moccasined foot exposed by the weather had reported it to him. He worried if he had done the right thing, since he had returned to the site of Pete's grave with a shovel and completed the burial. At the time it had seemed the right thing to do. Now he was beginning to feel guilty because he had withheld the information from the girls. He told himself, someday, when the time is right, I'll tell them. Approaching the northwest corner of the fort he left the road, taking a shortcut across a stretch of rippling prairie grass. Entering the fort proper, he cut around the end of the long enlisted men's barracks that extended across the north end of the parade ground.

Opposite, to the south, across from the esplanade, were several one-and-a-half story houses occupied by the officers and their families. The store on the west side of the open ground was long and of two stories. Adjoining the store, extending even further south was the hospital, a large portion of which had two floors with an attached kitchen and sick ward. From his past army experience he knew the post dayroom and headquarters were both located in the south portion of the store, there being no other suitable building on the post.

Each fort building foundation had been built of raised wood posts, with sides of the buildings boarded to the ground for winter warmth. The open side of the parade ground lay on the high bank facing the Red River, guarded by three solitary seven-pound brass cannons, standing side by side.

Dismounting from his bay, Charley casually wrapped the lines on the long hitching pole in front of the headquarters. He noted the inner door stood open, no doubt due to the heat of the day. His first steps on the porch alerted the Charge of Quarters who stepped outside the door.

"Good morning, Sheriff! Come inside. Lieutenant Hoch is on duty."

Following the corporal inside, the Lieutenant arose from behind a desk and extended his hand to greet Charley. "Good morning, Charley! What's your pleasure today?"

"Hello, Oliver. I'm here to see Captain Collins. I've some trouble over in the hills west of St. Joe. I need a little assistance. Canadian Indians have crossed to our side of the line again, and are giving the settlers hell."

Hoch shook his head dolefully. "The Inspector General is here inspecting the post, and we're trying to finish qualifying the men on the rifle range before the snow flies. We're hard up for ready patrols just now. I have my doubts, but of course, it's the captain's decision. He might spring for a few men.

"I probably need only about a dozen. Don't believe the Indians have much support from the locals. Probably a small bunch who have their dander up and will back down and skedaddle back to Canada if pushed hard." Reflecting, he added, "A couple of weeks in your guardhouse on bread and water would really straighten them out!"

Hoch turned to the corporal, "Find the Captain and inform him the sheriff is here. I think he's at the laundry." He turned back to Charley. "The steam jenny that heats the water over there is giving the laundresses a fit. They're afraid it will explode."

Charley managed a wrinkled grin. "Hold up! It's not necessary to send Corporal Donegan. I'll walk over there myself."

After Charley left the day room, Hoch questioned the veteran corporal. "Wasn't he Captain Wheaton's First Sergeant when the captain was in charge a few years ago?"

"Yes sir! And don't let that easygoing manner fool you. He was hell on wheels before he quit the army in '75. He was a real tight soldier; a man's man, tough as nails. During the war he was a real leader! He made brevet lieutenant after our first scrap and his platoon was usually given the dirty, most dangerous jobs. He took over the company command on more than one occasion, only to be deposed by Pointers who were jealous of his ability. His men would go through hell for him; I know, for he was my lieutenant until he was captured late in '63."

Taking a direct route across the parade ground Charley passed between two of the officer-cottages on his way to the laundry. A sudden spurt of firing came from the rifle range to the west, causing him a quick glance in that direction. Rounding the laundry building he found Captain Collier in the act of admonishing a soldier.

"Let the fire die out after the laundresses finish for the day, then disassemble the safety valve and clean it thoroughly. You don't need that huge fire in the boiler. Keep it small and feed it often, just enough to keep the steam up. The noise of the steam escaping from the valve is frightening the women." He half turned upon hearing Charley's approach, then added, "Stay on the job when the boiler is fired. I don't want to hear any more complaints from the ladies."

Facing Charley, he began to smile. "Come to put the touch to me again?"

"Yup! Indians in the Hair Hills are putting the run to settlers. I've got to try to recover a team and wagon loaded with government goods they've seized. It was destined for the smallpox area. It'll probably be a cold day in Hades if I get any of that stuff back!"

Collins shook his head. "Darn trouble makers! We underestimate the Indians at times. Fetterman sure did! So did Custer! I only wish I understood them better." He sighed, "Charley, I can't spare you any men until late next week. Can you wait that long?"

The sheriff shrugged his shoulders. "Guess I'll ride out that way on Monday. If I have no luck I'll be back on your doorstep." He hesitated, "Hock inferred that you're swamped with the federal inspector visiting. I know what you're up against."

"Just my career," Collins joked. "General Gibbon is the inspector; he's not too hard to get along with."

"He's fair," Charley admitted. "He's inspected the fort before, back when I was stationed here under Captain Wheaton."

Light conversation ensued as they walked back toward the parade ground, finally the captain suggested, "Let's go over to the house. My wife and son will be put out if you don't stop. We don't see much of you -- might as well have lunch with us."

At l:30 that afternoon the sheriff arrived back in town. Hearing voices from Bob Ewing's office he climbed the outside staircase. Opening the screen door, he found Deputy Anderson and Jud LaMoure seated near the lawyer’s desk.

Anderson looked embarrassed, "Sorry I missed you this morning, sheriff. I ran across Marshal LaMoure at breakfast and we discussed my problem at length."

Jud spoke up woodenly. "Charley, it seems the man Anderson wants is Bill Gale."
Charley took a chair next to Ewing's desk. "Kind of figured it had to be him. He hasn't been around here long, and I kind of wondered about his accent. It's from the southwest, sure not local."

"I still need him," Anderson spoke up softly.

Ewing looked guilty. "You're right Charley, he's from Texas. Said he was trying for a new life. He had me write a letter to his wife saying he would soon send money to get her here." His face bore a look of chagrin. "It's my fault they've found him out."

"He's no innocent," Anderson grumbled. "He was arrested in Dallas last February for assault and carrying a concealed weapon; he pleaded guilty to that -- jumped a $15,000 bail in June, just took off."

"Charley, wasn't he working for Bill Moorhead this fall?” LaMoure asked.

"Yes, but he's working for White now, bartending in his hotel at the border. At least that's the last I've heard."

LaMoure laughed, "What a grand place to work; White's running a damned whorehouse out there."

"Until someone complains, it's not my problem," Charley shrugged.

Anderson spoke up, "Collins has been moving. I traced him to Missouri in early August, then to St. Paul. Finally I got word from Dallas that he was here." Anderson turned to LaMoure, "I stopped in Fargo and talked to your boss, but he was busy in court. He said to see you and the local sheriff. They told me he might have crossed the border into Canada by now. If so, I'd have to bait him across the line somehow."

"You'll probably have to do just that," Ewing said. "If you take your warrant to Canada you'll get the runaround. Best you catch him on this side."

Charley turned to Anderson angrily, "What do you want me to do? I'm only the sheriff; you and Jud are both Federal Marshals. You two can make your own arrest; it's a federal matter -- your job."

Anderson was defensive. "I told you Bill and I were friends back in Texas. He'll recognize me immediately and be on his guard. He'll know I'm after him and probably run again."

LaMoure looked at Charley hopefully. "What if you and I go over to Huron City tonight? We shouldn't have any trouble with him, seeing there are two of us."

"Not tonight, Jud. I'll be tied up in St. Vincent."

Jud knew of Charley's occasional dalliance with Marguerite and remained silent.

A long moment of quietude fell, finally broken by Charley. "Jud, I'll go out there tomorrow night with you, but I'll hate every minute of it. If he can be arrested without anyone getting hurt, him included, I'll play along. It has to be tomorrow night though, 'cause I'm heading to the hills west of St. Joe, early on Monday morning. I've got some Indians to fuss with out there."

Deputy Anderson stood, and then began to smile. "I appreciate your help sheriff. Perhaps my stay in Pembina won't be too long."

Charley picked up his horse and buggy at Mason's Livery. Crossing on the Red River ferry he questioned the operator, "Trudo, how late will you be running tonight?"

"Until dark, Sheriff. 'Course, if you're later, yell loud enough to wake me up. I'll be sleeping in my shack aboard the barge."

* I say so far, because I'm encouraging Chuck to try to get it published. It's too good not to share with the world...

** I had never heard of a place called Huron City, just north and maybe a tad west of Pembina, but then, there's a lot of things I don't know, like there used to be a place called Sultan, Minnesota not far from St. Vincent, but it's just a memory now. Chuck says this about Huron City: "...The hotel there is well known as was the owner. The hotel bar had a red line painted down the floor, half in Canada and half in the U.S. Charley and LaMoure went out to Huron City to capture the desperado, but he was armed and dangerous." Also, you will note above an ad about Half-Way House taken from an actual newpaper of the time period; it says that Half-Way House is located three miles west of Smuggler's Point - A "...well-known ford across the Pembina River here is mentioned many times by Alexander Henry either as grand PASSAGE or the PEMBINA TRAVERSE. By the 1860s there was so much smuggling from Canada into the USA in this vicinity that Mr. Wm H. Moorehead was appointed customs inspector in an effort to curb this illegal traffic."

*** Read about how there were many such places on the border from the early days of settling until well into the twentieth century, and why.

Friday, December 22, 2006

1897 Red River Flood

April 22, 1897 - Dr. Harris home in Pembina, ND This is Doctor Harris' home during the 1897 Flood; Chuck Walker tells me that the same photo was featured in comparison to the house today in a New York Times piece reflecting on the 100 year anniversary of the 1897 flood.

St. Vincent's Christ Church rectory during the flood; although boats were used, as you can see from the man standing in the water, it was only about 18" deep in that particular spot. Still, I think the people in the boat have the better idea!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Chuck Walker Legacy

Charles Walker - aka Chuck Walker - of Pembina, ND, is an extraordinary man, from an extraordinary family. His grandfather was Charles Boarman Harris, one of Pembina and St. Vincent's prominent pioneers and residents. Chuck has been no slouch himself. In WWII, he was an officer in the Pacific Theater. He wrote a book about his experiences, but it wasn't his first book.*

I recently touched base with Hettie Walker, Chuck's wife. Hettie knew my mother, and I knew of Hettie through my Mom. I knew Hettie as a person who deeply cared about her adopted town, and knew her husband was a man who equally felt the same.

This week, Chuck took the time to look through his photo collection and identify images of Pembina and St. Vincent during their early years. He then went the extra step of going out-of-town to have them professionally copied, and mailed them to me yesterday. Talk about generousity! (Thank you SO much, Chuck...) I received them today, and the image accompanying this post is one of them. I will be posting more in the days ahead, as time allows.

* Chuck told me that he has written two books about the history of Pembina. I will be following up on that!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

How St. Vincent Began

Click to enlarge

Skating the Slough

My Mom used to tell me about how in her Mother's time (my Grandma Fitzpatrick) - when there were few roads and fewer fences, that a person could skate all the way from St. Vincent to Emerson on the slough that ran between them.
Part of that slough still ran through our northeast pasture when I was growing up; I saw how it would fill year in and year out, especially in the spring, when the migrating geese would use it as a layover for a few days. Even then, it would freeze up, and that's when such stories came up and I learned how things used to be.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Profile: Mr. Bordeniuk

Old Mr. and Mrs. Bordeniuk (John Sr. and Lena) lived down the street from my family, on the west side of our road. As you would head south on the road towards town, their place was about halfway down.

You knew when you went past the Bordeniuk place, it was unmistakeable. Mr. Bordeniuk had collected so many old pieces of equipment, trucks (and various other items too numerous to mention...) that grass, bushes, and even trees had begun growing amongst them. Into the side yards they stood or laid; peeking out of old outbuildings that themselves were leaning to one side or the other. The small wood, with tall old trees that had escaped being pulled down when the nearby field was originally worked, also had a few mechanical corpses within. An old barn, not far from the large garden outside their home's backdoor, was full of items poking out of open hayloft doors.

To my knowledge, only one item was in working order, an old tractor that Mr. Bordeniuk used to plow his two fields he still worked. One was directly north of their homestead; the other was northeast of that, right north of our woods. Both were small fields, but I witnessed Mr. Bordeniuk faithfully plow and plant them for many years. He planted by carrying a large sack of seed over his shoulder that lay against his side. He walked up and down the rows casting the seed by hand. My mother would say he probably lost as much as he grew to the crows.

His way would be considered antiquated and inefficient by today's standards, but I suppose it served his purposes, and I think he probably enjoyed doing it that way.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gamble Letter #37

Unidentified woman playing banjo
In this edition of the Gamble Letters, Alice is writing to Maggie about how it is to spend a long winter in Minnesota near the turn of the century, the 20th century, that is. What is pleasant to discover, is that while she makes clear she has a lot of work to catch up on that summer prevented her from doing, she was still making time to learn new enjoy herself.
January 25, 1896
St. Vincent, Minn.

Dear Maggie:

I received your letter some time ago but of course I put of answering it as usual, it is a very bad habit I have, putting things off. We are having a beautiful winter. The days are just like spring. But I expect February will make up for it. There is not much going on around here of course small events would not interest you; since you do not know the people. I wish it was summer again I am tired of winter already, there is so much work. I always think in summer that I will not have much to do when winter comes but I always get left. I am learning to play the banjo. I can play pretty well now I am just learning myself, there is not anyone around here to give lessons. I am learning to paint, and crayon too, but it is hard work without a teacher. I am going to do you a small crayon picture. I can send it in a paper I am just beginning you know, but I thought perhaps you would like to see some of my crazy workings. Did I ever tell you that Samuel plays the violin very well? The babies are all well. I thing now that Lizzie's youngest baby is going to be the prettiest of them all. Little Maggie calls her dear wee Allie. I like her the best of them all now she has light brown hair and blue eyes and a beautiful complexion she will soon be walking. I think Sammie is going to school he is getting on very fast. Ellen is at home yet. It is getting late so I must stop writing please excuse this crazy letter talk, hoping to hear from you soon I remain as ever

Your affectionate niece,

Alice Gamble

I suppose you will think I am quite giddy by my letters - but I have not patience to write much or very nice.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Winter: Cruel & Unusual


Although the following article (from City Pages) is about the entire state of Minnesota, and not just St. Vincent, it focuses on one distinctive and major factor in living here (especially for our ancestors), the weather - in particular,


By Mike Mosedale

Admit it: Like most Minnesotans, you think our long, cold winters have made you a tougher and more virtuous person. This is a leading article of faith here. It lies at the core of Minnesota's identity. Exposure to an Alberta clipper, the magical thinking goes, works as some sort of anesthetic on the id. It protects you from the slide into turpitude and indolence that is characteristic of the warmer climes. It strengthens your resolve and purpose. And, most importantly, it promotes stoicism and common sense--those greatest of Midwestern virtues. After all, without those qualities, how can you possibly get the car unstuck from the snowdrift?

Perhaps you don't really believe this. Even so, you probably still do all you can to cultivate the notion. Say it's mid-January. You are on the telephone with a friend in California who says, "Things are great here"--at the moment, the lucky bastard is in the backyard in Malibu, playing horseshoes in stocking feet, sipping a fruity cocktail--and then asks, "So, how's it going in Minnesota?"

What are you going to say? Will you reply truthfully that you are awfully happy that you signed up for digital cable, because it is horrid outdoors and you haven't left the house of your own volition for six weeks and now you have Cinemax, so you didn't really see the need? Or will you say that you really enjoy a nose full of frozen snot? That you consider grime-blackened mountains of plowed snow things of beauty?

Of course not. Instead, like generations of Minnesotans before you, you will claim ruggedness. Perhaps you will do this subtly. Maybe you observe in passing that we Minnesotans actually drive our cars on frozen lakes--even though you know it is much less daring and impressive than it sounds. Truth be told, driving on lake ice in the middle of winter is not much different from driving in the snow-covered parking lot of a bankrupt mall. Or maybe you will find some graceful way to make mention of some of the frighteningly low temperatures recorded here. (Helpful reminder: The 60 below mark was set in Tower in the winter of 1996. And, no, you weren't there). And if you are feeling especially bold, you might even invoke the most cherished component of the Myth of Minnesota Exceptionalism: Sure, it's cold here, but that keeps the riffraff out.

Of course, there is lots of riffraff in Minnesota. You can confirm this with a visit to any of our many prisons, sports venues, government offices, or churches. Climatologically speaking, it is true that Minnesota winters are nasty, brutish, and long. But if you care to be honest, you have to admit something else: The hardships of the Minnesota winter have been so softened by technology, by the designs of our cities and suburbs and cars and homes, by our colossal commitment to making the Great Indoors ever more cushy, as to be rendered all but unrecognizable.

What is true is this: In the bad old days, winters here used to be very, very hard. The season did more than merely bollix up the daily commute (the true epicenter of most Minnesotans' grudge against winter). Once upon a time, winter meant more than an extra 15 minutes stuck in traffic in a car with heated seats, a CD player, and a good excuse for getting to work late.

Consider the Minnesota of the early 19th century, a Minnesota that was not yet a state but rather a forlorn outpost inhabited by only the Dakota, the Ojibwe, fur traders, soldiers at Fort Snelling [Editorial Note from Trish: Hey, what about the settlement around what would later be Pembina/St. Vincent? At this time, the trading post there was one of the earliest settlements in the state and the region!] , and, later, the first waves of settlers. Little House on the Prairie notwithstanding, the Minnesota winters of the 19th century were defined mainly by epic suffering and existential horror. It's all there in the historical record--the incidents of starvation, cannibalism, and madness.

In a February 1818 letter, Duncan Graham, a trader with the Hudson Bay Company who was stationed at Big Stone Lake, stated the horrors of the frontier winter as plainly as anyone before or since. "I have experienced more trouble, anxiety, and danger since the 18th of October last than in the whole course of my life before and I would not undergo as much again for all the beaver that went out of Hudson Bay in 10 years," Graham wrote. "I am in hopes to go straight to heaven as I have every reason to think that I have already been to purgatory.... I have given the place where I am the name of Hell on Earth as I can find no other name more becoming it."

So read on. Say a prayer for the dead. And stop your bitching once and for all, because this used to be a really, really hard place to spend a winter. It isn't anymore.


Naturally, the risk of freezing to death was a major concern for early Minnesotans. Reports of frostbite and self-amputation are common in the historic record. Mind-bending suffering seems to be the defining feature of the winter experience. The contemporary historian Bruce White relates a story of a fur trader named Charles Oakes [Ermatinger] who, suffering from frozen feet, arrived at a particularly horrific frontier-style remedy for his problem: "He asked for an awl, punctured his feet full of holes, and had the men pour them full of brandy. This, while it was excruciatingly painful, both at the time and afterwards, saved him his feet."

But the most persistent hazard of the Minnesota winter was not cold per se; it was starvation. Famine's specter haunted not just the trappers and frontiersmen who stumbled ill-equipped into this forsaken territory, but also the native inhabitants who knew it best. In the course of especially brutal winters, the Indians sometimes found themselves without adequate rations or game to pursue. Thomas G. Anderson, a trader and captain in the British Indian Service, observed the phenomenon firsthand while traipsing around western Minnesota at the start of the 19th century.

In his account of the experience, Personal Narrative of Captain Thomas G. Anderson: 1801-1810, Anderson told of one winter in which he holed up near the headwaters of the Minnesota River in the company of a band of Dakota Indians led by a Chief Red Thunder. The weather was especially harsh, and the Indians "were soon reduced to subsist on the old buffalo hides they used to sleep on." Ultimately, Anderson, who shared his stores of corn with Red Thunder, was
himself scrounging for animal carcasses to eat.

One day one of [Red Thunder's] men found the head of an old buffalo, which some of his race had lost last summer, and with difficulty brought it home. We all rejoiced in our straitened circumstances at this piece of good luck. The big tin kettle was soon filled and boiling, with a view of softening it [the buffalo head] and scraping off the hair.

But boiling water and ashes would not stir a hair. We dried it in the hopes that we might burn the hair off; but in vain. We felt sadly disappointed, as we were on short rations, our corn supply drawing near an end...[After finding another dead buffalo--"dead but not quite stiff"] we managed to take his tongue and heart to our camp, which was in some old trader's wintering house. A groundhog was ready for supper.

[The next morning, after Anderson awoke for breakfast, the cook asked,] "Which will you have, Sir, tongue or heart?" This directed my eyes to the kettle, boiling over with a black bloody froth, with a sickening putrid smell. I bolted out of the house, leaving the men to smack their lips on heart and tongue, while I took the remnant of the groundhog to the open air.


The official keeping of weather records in Minnesota began in October 1819. Just a few months earlier, 118 soldiers from the U.S. Army's Fifth Infantry had traveled up the Mississippi River to Pike Island, so named after a Lieutenant Zebulon Pike "purchased" it from the resident Dakota 14 years earlier. Now, after a long delay, the soldiers had at last arrived with plans to build the
first permanent military outpost in the Minnesota Territory, Fort Snelling.

From the outset, it was as though the weather gods had fired a warning blast across the prow of the invading hordes. The message: This place is not fit for human habitation. While November and December temperatures were typical, weather historians say, by January it turned "abnormally cold." That month, average temperatures hovered around zero degrees. By the end of winter, about 40 soldiers had perished, mainly from scurvy.

As it turned out, the 1820s proved to be among one of the nastiest decades for weather in Minnesota history. December 1822 remains the coldest December on record. Between February and March of 1826, there were two and three feet of snow on the western prairie. The bad weather hit the Sioux Indians particularly hard. E.D. Neill--the Presbyterian clergyman, founder of Macalester College, and author of the first history of Minnesota--provided an account of some of the most vivid horrors in his narrative, Occurrences In and Around Fort Snelling:

Especially harsh, wrote Neill, was the winter of 1829. "At the time the buffaloes had gone far west, and so the Sioux pursued them to the west. Many of the Indians perished in a severe winter of starvation." In another passage laced with stark detail, Neill relates the experiences of one party of Sioux who found themselves stranded in a sudden blizzard:

The storm continued for three days, and provisions grew scarcer, for the party was 70 in number. At last, the stronger men, with a few pairs of snow shoes in their possession, started for a trading post 100 miles distant. They reached their destination half-alive, and the traders, sympathizing, sent for Canadians with supplies for those left behind. After great toil they reached the scene of distress and found many dead; and what was more horrible, the living feeding on the corpses of their relatives. A mother had eaten her own dead child, and a portion of her own father's arms. The shock to her nervous system was so great that she lost her reason. Her name was Tash-u-no-ta, and she was both young and good looking.

One day in September 1829, while at Fort Snelling, she asked Captain Jouett if he knew which was the best portion of a man to eat.... He replied with great astonishment, "No," and she then said, "The arms." She asked for a piece of his servant to eat, as she was nice and fat. A few days after this, she dashed herself from the bluffs near Fort Snelling into the river. Her body was found just above the mouth of the Minnesota, and decently interred by the agent.


In his 1880 tome, Dakota Life in the Upper Midwest, the Minneapolis missionary Samuel W. Pond shed some light on the elemental questions raised by any historical consideration of the Minnesota winter: How the did Native Americans, without benefit of polypropylene long johns, survive the deep freeze? And, just as important, what did they think of their rugged way of life? Pond gets to the answer through a story from Cloud Man, or Maripa-wichashta, a nonhereditary chief who resided on the west shore of Lake Calhoun.

Cloud Man told Pond how he and a small party of fellow hunters had once traveled west in search of winter buffalo when they were suddenly overcome by "a storm so violent that they had no alternative but to lie down and wait for it to pass over." With nothing but scraps of dried buffalo meat and blankets, the hunters let themselves be covered by snow, and waited for the storm to pass. "In the meantime," Pond wrote, "Cloud Man could hold no communication with his buried companions, and knew not whether they were dead or alive." While he lay and suffered, Pond added, Cloud Man "had the leisure to reflect on the vicissitudes of a hunter's life." Just a year earlier, a Major Taliaferro at Fort Snelling had urged Cloud Man to take up farming as an alternative to the hunter-gatherer life.

When the blizzard cleared, he "extricated himself from his prison," and, one by one, located his hunting buddies. Miraculously, all had survived, although some were unable to walk. Shortly afterward, Cloud Man discovered the cruel irony of the experience. Without knowing it, he and his party of his hunters had hunkered down just a short distance from a camp where they could have taken shelter. For Cloud Man, that settled the matter. It would be best to take up the white man's ways, and so he set about trying to convince his fellow chiefs to abandon the chasing of game for the ho-hum life of farming.

His agrarian proselytizing was ill-fated. Despite Pond's estimation of the chief as a man of "superior discernment and of great prudence and foresight," Cloud Man failed to persuade his fellow chiefs. He was killed in the great Dakota uprising in 1862.

As to Pond, he himself managed to endure the privations of Minnesota's winter, relying on his grit and stoicism. On one missionary trek to Lac qui Parle, Pond traveled through storms by day, and slept at night with nothing but the clothes on his back and a buffalo skin. "We did not expect to be comfortable," he wrote. "If we could avoid freezing, it was all we hoped for."


In 1836, Martin McLeod, an adventurous 23-year-old from Montreal, set out on a journey across the Great Plains as a foot soldier in one of the strangest crackpot ventures in 19th-century American history: "General" James Dickson's scheme to recruit an army of mixed-blood soldiers from Red River Valley, lead them into battle in a war for Texas independence, and ultimately form an Indian kingdom in California. Naturally, according to the plan, Dickson would preside over the new kingdom.

Not surprisingly, his grandiosity ran smack into the harsh, unromantic reality of the northern plains winter. McLeod, who proved to be one of Dickson's less hapless recruits, provided a harrowing account of his experiences traveling with a small contingent of Dickson's men (referred to as Mr. P and Mr. H) in the vicinity of Lac qui Parle:

March 7. Last night excessively cold. Today unable to leave camp. So stormy that it is impossible to see the distance of 10 yards on the plain...such are the disadvantages encountered by the traveler in this gloomy region at this inclement season.

March 14. Last night so cold could not get a moment's sleep. Today in camp, guide unable to go on, with sore eyes.

March 17. Suddenly, about 11 o'clock, a storm from the north came that no pen can describe. I perceived [Mr. H, one of my three traveling comanions] to stoop, probably to arrange the strings of his snow shoes. In an instant afterwards, an immense cloud of drifting snow hid him from view and I saw him no more.

Saturday 18. Never was light more welcome to a mortal. At dawn, I crept from my hole and soon afterward heard cries. Fired two shots; soon after guide came up; he escaped by making a fire, and being a native and a half blood, his knowledge of the country and its dangers saved him. Mr. P was found with both his legs and feet frozen. All search for Mr. H proved ineffectual.

Sunday 19. ...Left Mr. P with all our blankets and robes except a blanket each (guide and myself), also plenty of wood cut, and ice near his lodge to make water of. Out of provisions. Obliged to kill one of our dogs; dog meat excellent eating.

April 2. This morning the two men [who were sent to retrieve Mr. P] returned. Poor P is no more. They found him in his hut, dead. He had taken off the greater part of his clothes, no doubt in a delirium caused by the excruciating pain of his frozen feet. In the hut was found nearly all the wood, his food, and a kettle of partially frozen water.

14 April. Embarked at sun rise in a canoe with Indians and squaws who are going to...Fort Snelling. Have for company 10 Indians and squaws in three canoes. These people have in one of their canoes the bodies of two of their deceased relatives which they intend to carry to a lake near the Mississippi more than 100 miles away.

1837 entry: I am the most unfortunate of human beings.

Unlike General Dickson, who vanished from history not long afterward, McLeod went on to lead a life of distinction. He became a prominent leader in Minnesota's territorial legislature. He had a county named after him. Still, he died an alcoholic wreck. Today he probably would have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder--a classification that likely would have applied to almost anyone who survived those hellish winters on the frontier.


If you page through 19th-century Minnesota newspapers, you will routinely encounter tales of blizzard survival--and, of course, tales of death. They are curious in tone, sometimes full of awe, sometimes utterly stoic and matter-of-fact. Take Kate E. Sperry's recollection of an 1865 blizzard in Martin County, originally published in the Fremont Sentinel. "All the old settlers will remember this one, as it was the one the Presslers were caught in, coming home from school. One of the boys had both legs and arms taken off by Dr. Winch, the famous Blue Earth Surgeon."

Or consider Lt. Charles Stewart Peterson's straightforward recounting of the grim toll exacted by "the Historic Minnesota Blizzard of January 7 and 8, 1873." The blizzard, which the St. Paul Dispatch described as "unparalleled in our recent history," took many people by surprise, as it was immediately proceeded by unusually pleasant January weather. Peterson's characterizations of how people perished in the tempest are presented in staccato manner. Mostly, they consist of single sentences, devoid of any overt sentimentality or emotional comment. Taken together, though, they convey the horror of the storm with a brutal, if artless, efficiency:

A person named Wolverton froze to death in Mankato. Eight persons froze to death between Madelia and St. James. At St. James a man and a boy were victims. At Madelia, a woman went in search of her husband and both succumbed to the cold. At New Ulm, a man sought a doctor for his wife and newborn baby boy and all three froze to death. Seventeen coffins were used at New Ulm to bury those frozen dead. Thirteen were frozen to death at Lake Hensky six miles from Lake Crystal. Six school children froze to death between Fort Ridgely and Beaver Falls. Thomas Johnson, a farmer, froze to death near Evansville in northern Minnesota. A man froze to death near Stony Brook ten miles from Pomme de Terre....

In Otter Tail County, five persons near St. Olaf froze to death, mostly Norwegian farmers. Four miles west of Granger in Fillmore County, Reverend Evans was returning home with his wife and two children and came within three fourths of a mile of his home and was stranded in the snow. He carried one child home and returned for another and left with it. They were both lost, and the child at home and the mother left in the sleigh were both frozen to death.

One of the more compelling newspaper stories from 1866 concerned a Captain Fields, who was the commander of a cavalry detachment. In late February, Fields set out from the Coteau Prairie--a bedrock formation that straddles South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota--destined for Sauk Centre. On the Coteau, Fields and his men encountered another company of soldiers, who were led by a Lieutenant Stevens and bound for Fort Wadswoth. Shortly after the two groups split, a severe storm set in. Stevens followed Fields's tracks for a spell, before conditions became so brutal he was forced to set up camp. That night, Stevens reported, fives mules perished in the cold and twelve of his men were "so badly frozen as to be unable to stand or walk."

After the storm cleared, soldiers located three of the horses from Fields's company. The bodies of the men, however, wouldn't be found for nearly three months, and their fate became a source of running concern in the Minnesota newspapers. As described in the May 10, 1866 issue of the St. Cloud Democrat, it didn't take long for the recovery crew--which included Fields's father--to piece together the doomed detachment's final episode of suffering:

"Within sight of timber where they knew was shelter, and possibly friends, they fell exhausted, frozen, into the cold embrace of death," the newspaper reported. "They were somewhat consumed by wild animals. Mr. Fields identified his son by his clothing, and it was heart rending to witness the anguish of the bereaved parent."

Thanks to Alan R. Woolworth and the Minnesota Historical Society for assistance in researching this story.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Profile: Angelica Zasta Gooselaw

I wrote an earlier post about the Gooselaw family, which basically consisted of a scan of two pages from the 1928 Border Crossings that was dedicated to their Matriarch, Angela Gooselaw. However, that post was, I have recently learned, mainly taken from a newspaper article published on Sunday, May 27, 1923 in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Below is the entire article, with links I have provided on certain key words you might find of additional interest...

Indian Woman, 98 Years Old Still Lives in Log Home, Her Minnesota Abode for More Than Eighty Years

Mme. Angelica Gooselaw, Born on Site of Winnipeg Sees Wilderness Won by Her Descendants; Recalls Visit of General Dickson*, and Says He Left Without Raising Half-Breed Army.

By August J. Lindvall

In a log house tucked into the northwest corner of Kittson county, which gives the dwelling the distinction of being nearest of any home to that angle of Minnesota's northern boundary, lives Mme. Angelica Zasta Gooselaw, 98 years old. The farmhouse of the Gooselaw house is two miles north of St. Vincent, and it was there, on May 21, that I obtained the photograph accompanying this article and got from her the story of her life.

In this connection I inquired of her whether she could recall anything about the expedition of a character calling himself General Dickson* of the Indian Liberating Army, who in 1836, arrived alone in Pembina, and who announced that his purpose was to obtain about 200 young half-breeds to go with him to the far southwest, there to establish an Indian kingdom of which he would be king.

Mrs. Gooselaw informed me that she remembered General Dickson quite well; that he stayed in Pembina less than a year, but, unable to speak the Cree language, or any of the vernacular languages of the aborigines in that region, he failed to impress the people seriously, finally departing abruptly. Where he had come from, or where he went thereafter, no one knew.

Born in October 1824

Mme. Gooselaw was born at St. Xavier Mission, now the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba, in the month of October 1824. Her parents were Joseph Zaste and Angelica Parisien, both of the Cree Indian nation, which had dwelt at the head of the Great Lakes toward the north and west, and south along both sides of the Red River of the North, since time immemorial.

Here her parents continued to dwell until she passed her fourteenth year, when they, together with other people of their kindred, moved south and made settlement on both sides of the Red River, making permanent settlements at what are now the cities of St. Vincent, Minn., and Pembina, N.D. These settlements, in the summer of 1838, were largely in charge - spiritually, at least - of the French Jesuit missionaries whose zeal and devotion for the conversions of all peoples to the Christian religion are so well known to all.

Here the Cree maiden grew up to womanhood, and here together with others of her coevals and kindred she became a catechumen of the Rev. Fr. Belcourt, a most zealous Jesuit missionary, who built the first mission chapel, about one mile north of the present Pembina, on the west side of the Red River, now known as Old Pembina.

The Zaste family, being devout Catholics, did not a little to help organize the first nucleus of a Cree parish, a mission congregation, as well as the first permanent settlement of the Cree people within our state.

Romance of Wilderness

It was here the Cree maiden met the youth of her choice, a M. Augustine Gooselaw, pioneer and frontiersman of French-Canadian descent. Their intimacy ripened into love, and on May 15, 1842, their marriage was solemnized in the Mission chapel, above mentioned, by the Rev. Fr. Belcourt. "She less than eighteen and the swain in his twentieth." Although but a frontier chapel, this marriage was solemnized with all the solemnity of the Catholic church, both the contracting parties being members of the mission parish.

Their home, a frontier two-story log cabin, already built on the east side of the Red River, less than a mile from the chapel, has been the family domicile throughout all the intervening years.

This family was blest with twelve children as follows: Jean Baptiste, Henry, Xavier, Angelica, Marie Rose, William, Alexander, Frank, Jerome, Rogers, Augustine, and Emma - nine boys and three girls. At the present writing all are living but Jean Baptiste, the oldest boy, who was drowned in the Red River while in his fourteenth year. Nine are living in Minnesota, while two daughters, Angelica and Emma, are residents of Canada, just north of the family homestead. At the present writing, there are fifty-four grand and great-grandchildren living and thirteen dead. A great number of the Gooselaw descendants are farmers, hunters, and fishermen, while others are merchants and mechanics and quite a few in the professions.

We must not forget to show the loyalty of the Gooselaw family, of which they may well be proud. In our late World war the following grand and great-grandsons served in United States forces overseas: Peter, George, Henry, Frederic, Ely, Alfred, and Joseph. Also a Daniel and John Gooselaw, youths in their teens, enlisted at the close of the war - all ready to defence their country, come what may. One grandson, a Philip Goodon, served in His Majesty's forces overseas.

But few people living within the borders of our state - if any there be - can antedate this venerable pioneer family.

M. Augustine Gooselaw died on August 18, 1904.

Husband Walked to St. Paul

Mme. Gooselaw recalls many incidents of real pioneer life. At the invitation of Governor Sibley, Augustine Gooselaw walked to St. Paul in 1841 to discuss matters relating to their settlement.

Her husband hunted the bison on the Dakota plains and was one of the purveyors of buffalo meat for the United States garrison at Fort Pembina. Her served also as United States mail carrier for the outlying settlements and trading posts, particularly Koochicing, Red Lake, Lake of the Woods, Turtle Mountains (St. John's, N.D.)

The weary traveler, the wayfarer and prospector, always found welcome at the Gooselaw cabin, and it can truly be said, "all claim a kindred" and encore the poet:

Just where the woodlands meet the flowery
surf of the Prairies,
Dwelt they in love of God and of man.
Alike were they free from
Fear, that reigns with the tyrant, and envy,
the vice of republics.
Neither locks had they to their doors, nor
bars to their windows;
But their dwellings were open as day and
the hearts of the owners;
There the richest was poor, and the poorest
lived in abundance.

Mme. Gooselaw also related to me how she became an American as distinguished from a Canadian. I seems that when the Crees migrated southward they had no intention of leaving Her Majesty's domain. This was prior to the survey of the International boundary. The present cities of St. Vincent and Pembina were then laid out by a M. Cavalier, south of the International boundary. A few pioneer Cree families settled two miles north of these settlements, thinking they would be in Canada. Dame Fortune destined it otherwise, however, the local surveyors and astrologers losing out. When the real survey came they were all south of the boundary, and Minnesota gained in worthy citizens. Mme. Gooselaw's two oldest sons, Henry and Xavier, worked with the surveyors from the crossing of the Red to the Lake-of-the-Woods.

During all her varied life Mme. Gooselaw has "seen the wilderness bloom into a fruitful garden." Her duty toward family, God and country always has been uppermost in her daily life. Her parents, converts of the Rev. Father Belcourt, the Jesuit pioneer missionary, herself and husband devout Roman Catholics, she brought up her children to be members and attendants of, the mother church. Mme. Gooselaw always refers with reverence to the early Jesuits, particularly Father Belcourt, and later a Rev. Father Andree, regarding how they labored with her people - the zeal and devotion and self-denial they displayed; both familiar with the language and custom of the Cree people; their only aim being the conversion of all to the Christian religion. Although passed her ninety-eighth year, Mme. Gooselaw attends mass regularly at the St. Vincent Catholic church, now served by a Rev Father Baux.

As a linguist she can read and speak Cree, English, and French fluently. We are told that her French is most scholarly. She is also familiar with the language of her kinspeople, the Chippewas and the Assinaboines.

She remembered how the old Red River had at times gone on the warpath - its water causing a deluge to adjacent land. How some sixty-two years ago they all had to leave their homes and flee to higher ridges, particularly Ridgeville, Manitoba, just north of the Bamdarg. The water did not recent till June 10 and no crops were harvested that year.

Age Kind to Her

In the summer of 1920, Mme. Gooselaw was a witness in Minnesota District court at Hallock, Minn., presided over by the Hon. Andrew Grindeland. Despite the fact that she was then in her ninety-seventh year, the court complimented her on her intelligence as a witness.

When I saw her but a few days ago, she was in perfect health - reading, sewing and crocheting without the aid of glasses. Her mental faculties, particularly her memory, as of the very best - she could relate the smallest details of her early life. She also attends her family household to a certain extent. However, two granddaughters are always with her of late years. Her excellent health continues, and if nothing unforeseen occurs, she bids fair to reach the century mark.

We are sorry to relate, that at the close of so eventful a life, the title to the family homestead is contested - the home she has occupied some eighty years and more. The case is now in the United States court.

* Concerning "General Dickson"...

Although considerable research still needs to be done in the area of "Metis uprisings" in the United States, there is at least two episodes in which attempts were made by allied groups of Indians and half-breeds to form a "native" state. The first, in 1826-27 involved the formation of a United Nations of Indians and the establishment of the Republic of Fredonia at Nacogdoches between the Canadian River and the Red River (U.S.A.) near the Mexican border in what is now Texas. The movement included remnants of the Tecumseth Confederacy, and dissatisfied Cherokee (who were predominantly mixed blood). The leadership of the movement was assassinated in a plot launched by the founder of Texas, Stephen Austin.

The second episode, in 1836, apparently died in the planning stages but included an even more widespread plot. A well-financed half-breed named James Dickson traveled between Montreal, Buffalo, Sault Ste. Marie and Red River (Canada) recruiting half-breeds for an Indian Liberation Army. The plan was to join up with a larger group of Cherokees and form an expedition to California where an independent state would be established.

Hudson's Bay Company officials interfered with Dickson's finances and the plan ground to a halt. In a final meeting before he left the Red River area, Dickson presented Cuthbert Grant with his sword and epaulets. These episodes are highlighted here, both to indicate the need for research on an continental basis on Metis issues, and to at least indicate that the concept of nationhood is not exclusive to the Red River area.

From: Pre & Post-Red River Metis Communities

While Houston was still fighting for the Texas Revolution, a poet-warrior named James Dickson appeared in Washington, proclaiming himself as Moctezuma II, determined to go out to the region west of the Great Lakes, where he would recruit an "Indian Liberation Army" that would move down across the Rockies, to conquer California for a new republic where only Indians would be permitted to own lands. He did recruit a few supporters in the East, he did go West, but he there found himself with his words growing thin in the cold air. He faced local opposition from the Hudsons Bay Company. Most of his followers drifted away. In the middle of the winter, he headed toward the mountains. Nobody heard from him again.

From: The Deluded White Chieftains and Elizabeth Arthur, "Dickson, James," Dictionary of Canadian Biography